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Mexico's Southern Front
Guatemala and the Search for Security

by Kate Doyle

Posted - November 2, 2003

 

This new Electronic Briefing Book is based on a collaboration between Proceso magazine and the National Security Archive and launched on March 2, 2003.

The collaboration grew out of a shared desire to publish and disseminate to a wide audience newly-declassified documents about the United States and Mexico. Each month, Proceso magazine will publish an article by the Archive's Mexico Project director, Kate Doyle, examining new documentary evidence on a chosen topic. The series - called Archivos Abiertos (or, Open Archive), will draw from U.S. and Mexican declassified records on a range of issues that could include, for example: drug trafficking and counternarcotics policy, Mexican presidential elections, human rights cases, immigration, U.S. training of the Mexican military, NAFTA negotiations, the role of the press, peso devaluations, and state repression during Mexico's "dirty war." On the same day that Proceso's article appears in Mexico, the National Security Archive will post an Electronic Briefing Book on its web site, containing an English-language version of the article, a link to Proceso's web site, and all of the declassified documents used for the piece, reproduced in their entirety.

 

Contents
Article
Sidebar - "Surviving Exile"
Spanish translation of interview with Edwin Quiñónes Morales
Related story from the Proceso archives - "16 Guatemaltecos y una Mexicana, secuestrados en el DF, supuestamente por policias," Proceso No. 402, 16 July 1984
Documents
Link - Proceso Magazine
El artículo en español (PDF - 1.2 MB)

Mexico's Southern Front
Guatemala and the Search for Security

by Kate Doyle

During Guatemala's protracted and savage internal conflict, which raged from 1963 to 1996, tens of thousands of Guatemalan citizens fled the violence in their country for the safety of Mexico. Whether they arrived as refugees, illegal immigrants, exiled political activists or members of one of the four guerrilla groups, most of them found safe haven on Mexican soil. Having survived the war, many of them today cherish a strong and enduring affection for Mexico.

No one has expressed that sentiment more eloquently than Rigoberta Menchú Tum - Guatemala's Nobel Peace Prize winner and renowned activist for human rights and the rights of indigenous people everywhere. Upon the occasion of receiving her award from the Nobel Foundation in Oslo, Norway in 1992, Menchú noted - with "satisfaction and gratitude" - that she would place the medal given to her in the museum of the Templo Mayor in Mexico City.

Calling Mexico "our wonderful neighbor country," Menchú declared her admiration for the nation "that has been so dedicated and interested, that has made such great efforts in respect to the negotiations that are being conducted to achieve peace, [and] that has received and admitted so many refugees and exiled Guatemalans. . ."

The emerging record of that era, however, is a complicated one. Files recently released in Mexican and U.S. government archives document Mexico's ambivalent and at times contradictory policy toward the Guatemalan conflict.

On the one hand, the Mexican government criticized the political violence employed by decades of successive regimes in Guatemala, and extended a life-saving welcome to Guatemalans fleeing the brutality in their homeland.

On the other hand, Mexico harbored profound concerns about the implications of the violence for its own internal security.

Those concerns led the Mexican government to collaborate - secretly and selectively - with the same repressive forces it opposed. On the border, Mexican troops at times supported counterinsurgency operations launched by the Guatemalan army. In the refugee camps in the south, Mexico alternated its policy of granting asylum to the massive tide of fleeing peasants with deportations, harassment, and, in 1984, forced relocation. And in Mexico City, where many of the opposition's militantes had fled, the Mexican state maintained intensive surveillance and conducted sporadic operations to detain, torture and expel them.

New evidence of Mexico's ambiguous posture toward Guatemala does not alter its historical record of responding to human rights crises in Latin America by opposing state violence and providing a vital haven to political refugees - from Spain, Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay, among other countries. But it serves as a reminder that Mexico's traditional rhetoric about the hemisphere always coexisted with the cold calculus of its own security considerations.

With the appearance of the first armed opposition groups in Guatemala in the early 1960s, the militaries of Mexico and Guatemala forged a mostly cooperative relationship. Guatemalan army officers, along with other foreign military personnel, attended Mexican military schools for training, encouraging direct communication between the two institutions.

One of the most notorious graduates of the Mexican system was Oscar Mejía Víctores, who attended a command and general staff course in Mexico for three years, beginning in January 1966. In 1983, Mejía Víctores took power in Guatemala through a military coup. Under his leadership, the security forces favored the use of "disappearance" as a tactic to dismantle guerrilla networks and murder suspected subversives in Guatemala City.

American documents indicate that as the internal conflict brewed inside Guatemala during the 1960s and 70s, U.S. and Guatemalan officials repeatedly expressed concerns about the security and permeability of Mexico's southern border. When the question arose, the U.S. embassy in Mexico City was confident that the Mexican government would back Guatemalan counterinsurgency efforts. In 1966, in response to a query from a senior level planning group in the State Department about Mexico's willingness to stop the movement of subversives across the border, the embassy assured Washington that it believed the government would close the border, if need be, as well as "place surveillance on known and more dangerous subversives and take steps to prevent their approaching border area."

The spirit of cooperation at times extended to Mexican support for Guatemalan counterinsurgency operations. In late 1972, the Guatemalan government under Carlos Arana Osorio began preparing a major operation along the country's southwestern border with Mexico. The Guatemalan military sought the assistance of the Mexican army. In response, Secretary of Defense Hermenegildo Cuenca Díaz sent a telegram to the operations section of the General Staff (Estado Mayor) to "increase number troops at border, intensify patrol with priority area indicated, activate intelligence units, and adopt other measures designed prohibit criminals and guerrillas from crossing border and penetrating national territory."

As the insurgency gained momentum during the early 1980s, Guatemala's war intensified - and suspicions spread within the successively brutal and paranoid regimes of Fernando Romeo Lucas García, Efraín Ríos Montt and Mejía Víctores that the Mexican government was aiding and abetting the guerrillas.

Mexico's decision in 1981 to join France in recognizing the Salvadoran insurgents as a legitimate political force - as well as increasing flows of Guatemalan refugees and political activists fleeing the violence into Mexico - set off alarm bells inside the new Reagan administration as well. "Reports suggest a disturbing level of Mexican official accommodation to Guatemalan guerrillas, despite Mexican army's apparent desire to clamp down," cabled the State Department anxiously in 1982.

On the ground, however, the U.S. embassy in Mexico City downplayed these concerns. In a confidential telegram dated March 30, 1982, U.S. Ambassador John Gavin reviewed the available evidence and concluded that while the government might "look the other way" when insurgents used Mexican territory for political or even limited operational activities, the United States had no hard intelligence that there was a deliberate policy of aid to Guatemala's opposition.

"Mexico is divided on support to insurgents in Central America," wrote Gavin. The political left and some church leaders favored assistance, but the private sector and the military opposed it. "The PRI and the GOM [Government of Mexico] traditionally seek the middle way between such political poles, and in this case have not surprisingly adopted an ambiguous stance."

The ambassador painted a picture of a policy of pragmatism, one which granted the left relative freedom to operate in the capital, but limited their activities to political agitation rather than operational. "There are frequent and open contacts between Salvadoran and Guatemalan insurgent representatives and Mexico City's very large academic community. Similarly, there are no restrictions on contact between the diplomatic corps and insurgent representatives. We assume that financial support to the left also passes through these channels."

Exiled Guatemalan activists who worked from Mexico City during the 1980s confirm Gavin's analysis. In a telephone interview from Austin, Texas, one former militante described an atmosphere of freedom mixed with extreme caution. "The Mexicans had a very sophisticated intelligence approach to us," he explained. "We knew they were watching us every moment. And they knew we knew they were watching us. But it was more than vigilancia. If someone inept operated too openly, they arrested and deported him."

Mexico's pragmatism was a product of the government's ever-present concerns about the dangers posed by the Guatemalan conflict to Mexican stability. The nations' long and porous shared border meant that the violence burning inside Guatemala could - and often did - spill into the mostly poor and indigenous southern state of Chiapas, where the regime had its own security problems. Insurgents used Chiapas as a haven for rest and recuperation, as well as a conduit for food and medical supplies back into Guatemala. And the Guatemalan army regularly crossed the border in pursuit of fleeing guerrillas and civilians, to gather intelligence, monitor and intimidate the refugee camps, and to abduct and kill.

As the tide of terrified refugees entering Mexico swelled, the government established temporary camps along the border inside the state of Chiapas. Guatemala was convinced that Mexico was permitting the use of the camps for subversion - Ríos Montt told President Reagan in a meeting in December 1982, "there were no refugees in Mexico," only guerrillas. At the same time, Mexico was launching the Contadora group as part of its regional peace efforts and needed Guatemala's support. The combined pressures of security problems on the border and Mexico's most important foreign policy initiative in years prompted the government to decide to forcibly relocate the refugee camps out of Chiapas and into the Yucatan.

The decision caused uproar over Mexico's refugee policy. Many of the Guatemalans residing in the camps objected to leaving Chiapas, where the largely Mayan population shared social, political and cultural traditions with the refugees. As the move got underway, Americas Watch, among other human rights organizations (as well as the Mexican press), documented numerous violations committed by the government, including "arrests, burning of camps and cut-offs of food and services to those refugees who do not want to relocate" (Guatemalan Refugees in Mexico: 1980-1984, 1984). International refugee advocates urged the De la Madrid administration to reconsider.

Mexico, however, would not budge. Recently declassified records from the Defense Secretariat - produced during 1984-86 and now open to the public in the Archivo General de la Nación - help explain why.

The documents are clear on several points. The Mexican defense establishment agreed with the Guatemalan government that the refugee camps were being used by insurgents. As the policy got underway, the military identified people within the camps supporting the move as genuinely in need of refuge, "people who really fled the country to save their lives"; and those who opposed relocation, stated a defense document, "are in contact with the subversives or the guerrillas."

It is also clear that in 1984 the Defense Secretariat was furious about the opposition of church leaders in Chiapas to the government's relocation plan. In one study by the intelligence section (S-2) of the Estado Mayor from late 1984, SEDENA accused clergymen such as Samuel Ruiz García and Arturo Lona Reyes to be flagrantly in support of the Guatemalan guerrilla movement and, in turn, of the radicalization of Mexico's own peasant sector. Calling on the southern military zones to mobilize army intelligence to spy on the bishops, the study warned darkly that "Guatemala's socio-political crisis is being exploited to the maximum by the progressive clergy," and that in order to coerce the local population into opposing the relocation, the bishops "resort to the method most convenient to them, the use of moral blackmail through religion."

Out of this mix of concerns about Mexico's international image, regional peace efforts, bilateral relations with Guatemala, and its traditional support for Latin American political exiles, the government's preoccupation for internal security and stability emerged as the most significant and urgent reason to relocate the refugees. The presence of the refugees in Chiapas, in short, could radicalize Mexico's own peasants, something the regime was determined to avoid.

In a document apparently written in May 1984, SEDENA observed: "Taking into consideration that the Guatemalan refugee camps in Mexico constitute a threat to national security - given that organic cells of subversive Guatemalan organizations very probably operate inside the camps, [groups] which are undoubtedly connected to international Central American organizations, and that in the near future given the economic crisis our country is suffering [these groups] will be able to operate in Mexico through the indoctrination of the economically weak popular masses, encouraging them to join the subversive movement with an eye to the destabilization of the country - it is recommended that strict measures of control be taken, such as breaking the social structures of the Guatemalan refugee population in Mexico [. . .] for this structure is currently being preserved pratically intact through the ties of family, language and culture, as well as due to pressure from the subversive organizations."

It is indisputable that Mexico's policy to permit Guatemalans fleeing the scorched earth campaign in their country to find refuge on Mexican territory saved many lives. But even while Mexico offered aid and comfort to those most in need, the government found ways to temper its progressive stance with measures that ensured continued cooperation and collaboration with the Guatemalan regime. The state perceived that Mexico's own internal security needs required such duplicity - as it had in the past, as it will again in the future.


Surviving Exile

Edwin Quiñónes Morales, 45, has been living in exile from Guatemala for almost twenty years. When he left in 1984, he was a comerciante, a new father and a member of the clandestine political opposition.

His decision to flee Guatemala came on the heels of the abduction and murder by security forces of a relative of his wife, Lucrecia. It was the third attack on her family - in 1981, at the height of the violence of the Lucas García regime, Lucrecia's 21-year-old sister, Emma, was kidnapped and held on a military base in Quezaltenango. She managed to escape with her life. Their brother Marco Antonio, 14, was not so fortunate. One day later, he was disappeared by members of the security forces. He has never been seen since.

Edwin and Lucrecia decided to take their infant son Julio and flee by foot into Mexico. They chose Mexico, Edwin recalls, because of its reputation as a tolerant and democratic nation. The country had opened refugee camps in the south for the waves of mostly Mayan Indians escaping the violence in Guatemala, and permitted members of the country's political opposition to live safely in the capital.

But less than three months after arriving in Mexico City with his family, Edwin and two of his compañeros were arrested by Mexican security forces. The men were held incommunicado for days in a clandestine cell in the Federal Security Directorate (DFS, the Interior Secretariat's domestic intelligence apparatus) and tortured. DFS chief José Antonio Zorrilla Pérez himself directed the interrogation sessions. After three weeks of detention, Quiñónes and his companions were deported to Cuba and told not to return to Mexico for ten years. His wife and child rejoined him eight months later, when they managed a rendezvous in Nicaragua.

Edwin Quiñónes Morales spoke to Proceso by telephone from Costa Rica, where he now lives with Lucrecia and Julio. It is the first time he has ever spoken publicly of his experience at the hands of the Mexicans.

* * * *

DFS agents captured our group on July 3, 1984, including my wife and son, who was one year old at the time. After they took me away, they threatened my wife by telling her that if she said anything in public about me they would hurt me. Lucrecia and Julio were held incommunicado until July 9th.

They were released thanks to the intervention of the PSUM [Partido Socialista Unificado de México]. When she got out, Lucrecia denounced our capture. Proceso magazine published the story that month [no. 402]. You can look it up, all our names will be there.

The DFS had always monitored the compañeros, that was routine. They were watching them, tapping their telephones, but then they started rounding them up - they began to capture Guatemalans indiscriminately. They caught many exiles and interrogated them to gather intelligence. This was time when the Guatemalan government was pressuring Mexico a lot about the refugees, and about the militantes coming over the border.

There were a lot of people in Guatemala then who were supporting the opposition. We were helping some of them get out, so they could come to Mexico. Before I was arrested, I had gone to Tapachula [on the border with Guatemala] to meet some compañeros and take them to the D.F. We reached the capital. There were two of them staying with Lucrecia and Julio and me in the apartment. On the morning of July 3rd, Lucrecia went out with Julio to buy bread for breakfast. Someone whom we were supposed to meet in the street called me and said, "let's meet at 9." I was worried. I didn't think the telephone was secure. Ten minutes later, the police arrived. They knocked - and I just opened the door, I didn't even think about it. I would never have done that in Guatemala.

Men in civilian clothing pushed their way inside, and pointed their guns at me - one at my head and the other at my chest. Then a third entered and began to search the apartment. He found the two compañeros who were with us. Lucrecia and Julio arrived. At that moment, someone called me on the phone. The agents wanted me to arrange a meeting with him so I could give him up to them, but I didn't want to give him up. We talked in code on the phone and the police grabbed the phone and started to beat me. They ordered me to tell them where I was going to meet him and what time, but I wouldn't say.

They took us out of the apartment and forced us into a car, and they brought us to one of the DFS stations, near the Monument of the Revolution. They blindfolded us so we couldn't see where were going. While we were in the car, they robbed us of everything - our watches, our wallets. They took all our money from the apartment, too. These guys had pistols, radios. One car drove in front, one behind, the usual. When we got to the station, they put us in the basement. They had clandestine cells there, where we and others were held. I remember the sound of huge air machines going all the time - it covered the sound of screaming.

The person who directed my interrogations was José Antonio Zorrilla Pérez. They called him "el coronel." He beat me, too. I still have problems in my spinal column because of his beatings, and he fractured several of my ribs.

The "colonel" would say to me, to scare me: "We're bastards, you know." He told me that the Mexican security people had executed Guatemalan opposition leaders.

They would beat me - my interrogator would say, "Whack him!" They threatened to throw me in the Gulf of Mexico, or to turn me over to the Guatemalan government. They would put a pistol to my head and say, "Aren't you afraid to die?" They would insult me in their Mexican slang, they hit me with the butt of their pistols. They wanted to make me understand that they were in control and that my life depended completely on them. You never knew when they would hit you or kick you. I realized during these sessions that anything could happen to me. I never gave them the information they wanted, even though they told me everyone else had collaborated with them, including some who had betrayed me.

In my cell there was always a light on, you couldn't tell whether it was day or night. The only way I knew time was passing was when the meals would arrive. I tried not to eat the food, I didn't want to eat. But they managed to drug me once. One day the "colonel" took me out of my cell to interrogate me, but he didn't hit me while he asked his questions. He interrogated me calmly, without any beating. I felt suspicious. I was nervous, my mouth was dry. The "colonel" asked me if I wanted a drink of water, so I had some. Then I began to feel faint, I started to blackout. I felt very strange, it was hard to talk. They brought me back to my cell and a little while later they came back for me and left me with the "colonel" again. I forced myself to answer his questions in exactly the same way as I had before. That made him furious, and he beat me.

There were two kinds of torture they used on me: the beatings, which I received on my chest, my abdomen, my back. And the water barrel. Four of the six men would force me into a barrel of water and try to drown me. While my head was in the water they would kick my stomach to push the air out; that's how some of my ribs were broken once. They would shout at me, "Are you going to talk?" I would move my hands so they would take me out, but then I would shake my head no. So they put me back again. They did that repeatedly. Once one of them got angry with me when I didn't talk - he kicked me right in the face and split my nose open, then he grabbed me by the hair and put his cigarette out in the wound on my nose.

The worst of the interrogation and torture lasted about 10 days. It wasn't only physical torture, but mental torture. They showed me photos of my baby and said, "Do it for him." One time they made me stand in a room in front of a wall for an entire day listening to the screams of someone else being tortured. Another time they brought a doctor in to see me. I guess he was checking if I could be questioned anymore - would I survive more abuse. He asked me, "Man, what did you do to deserve this?" I told him, "nothing," and I asked him if he was going to give the ok for them to keep torturing me.

When we fled Guatemala, we thought Mexico would be safe. One time during my interrogations, Zorrilla told me, "We're after you people." I told him that I had always thought Mexico stood for human rights and respected the human rights of others. He laughed and said, "That's just a lot of stupid babble!"

The Mexican people have always been in solidarity with us. The Mexican government is something else. I will be always grateful to the Mexican people - but not to the Mexican state. They detained me, they tortured me. There was absolutely no difference between them and the torturers of Guatemala, El Salvador, Argentina, Brazil. The Mexicans behaved exactly the same way - they wore different clothes, but the repression was the same.

-From an interview conducted October 23, 2003

 


Note: The following documents are in PDF format.
You will need to download and install the free Adobe Acrobat Reader to view.

Documents

Document 1
January 6, 1966
Military Assistance Study
Defense Intelligence Agency, [classification excised] intelligence information report

A list of Guatemalan military officers who have been accepted for training in foreign military schools. The list includes the name of Oscar Mejía Víctores - the army officer who would later ride a coup to power in Guatemala, and whose government would become notorious for its use of "disappearances" against the opposition during 1982-85. According to the DIA, Mejía Víctores will go to Mexico in January 1966 to begin a three-year course in command and general staff skills.

Source: Released to National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act
July 1994, Archive Request No. 9530

Document 2
March 4, 1966
[Query About Mexican Cooperation Against Guatemalan Subversives]
State Department, secret telegram

The emergence of armed opposition groups inside Guatemalan prompted this query from the State Department regarding the willingness of the Mexican government to militarize its border with Guatemala in order to aid Guatemalan counterinsurgency efforts. "Question arose in discussion of contingency that political situation in Guatemala might deteriorate to a point where there is widespread violence which depends in part for its continuance on outside support."

Source: National Archives, RG 59, 1964-66
Pol 23-10 Mex, Box 2478

Document 3
March 5, 1966
[Response to Query on Mexican Cooperation with Guatemala]
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, secret telegram

In response, the Embassy opines that Mexico would likely cooperate in sealing its border to guerrillas fleeing from the south. However the cable also presages future events by noting that a totally sealed border is an unrealistic expectation. "Border would probably be closed effectively at regular or established crossing points, but determined efforts to carry out limited clandestine movement, in more remote areas, would undoubtedly succeed."

Source: National Archives, RG 59, 1964-66
Pol 23-10 Mex, Box 2478

Document 4
March 12, 1969
[Infiltration of Mexican Border by Guatemalan Rebels]
State Department, secret letter

Despite indications that Mexico is providing support to Guatemalan counterinsurgency campaigns, the State Department voices some doubts as to the seriousness of Mexican efforts. In a letter to the U.S. embassy in Mexico, a department officer questions the Mexico's dedication to preventing the transfer of "men, money and arms from Cuba" to Guatemala. He notes that he met the officers of the CIA ("our colleagues up the river") to ask "if something couldn't possibly be done to persuade Mexicans to tighten up on their side, not only down around Chiapas and its long jungle border with Guatemala, but up in Mexico City, the bottle neck through which this illicit traffic apparently funnels."

Source: National Archives, RG 286
OPS, Box 70

Document 5
April 10, 1970
Border Control Between Mexico and Guatemala
State Department, confidential telegram

Guatemalan officials request help from the United States in convincing Mexico to cooperate more closely in their campaign against the insurgents. "GOG [Government of Guatemala] should determine what it is it seeks from GOM [Government of Mexico] in way of cooperation and then make high level demarche. USG [United States Government] would then be willing give strong support with GOM."

Source: National Archives, RG 286
OPS, Box 70

Document 6
September 25, 1970
Observations During Visit to Quezaltenango Military Base
Defense Intelligence Agency, [classification excised] intelligence information report

This report by a U.S. defense attaché in Guatemala discusses the Guatemalan army's presence on the Mexican border under the command of future President Fernando Romeo Lucas García. Already by 1970, the army is conducting major counter-guerrilla sweeps along the border and foresees establishing a permanent presence in the region (San Marcos).

Source: Released to National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act, July 1994, Archive Request No. 9530

Document 7
November 28, 1972
[Guatemalan Counterinsurgency Operation on Border with Mexico Is Planned]
Secretaría de la Defensa, telegram

After a report from the Mexican military attaché that Guatemala's counterinsurgency operations would increase in northern border areas, Mexican Secretary of Defense Hermenegildo Cuenca Díaz orders military forces to increase their activity on the border. ". . .Increase number troops at border, intensify patrol with priority area indicated, activate intelligence units, and adopt other measures designed prohibit criminals and guerrillas from crossing border and penetrating national territory."

Source: Mexico's Archivo General de la Nación, SEDENA
Caja 98, expediente 292, hoja 56

Document 8
December 29, 1972
Order of Battle Summary, Foreign Ground Forces-Guatemala
Defense Intelligence Agency, [classification excised] intelligence information report

In response to a "general state of uneasiness and a burgeoning crime rate" near the southwestern Mexican border, the Guatemalan army begins a series of battalion-strength sweeps through the area. This DIA report corresponds to the counterinsurgency operation referred to by the Mexican Defense Secretariat in Document 7.

Source: Released to National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act
July 1994, Archive Request No. 9530

Document 9
September 1981
Latin America
Defense Intelligence Agency, secret military intelligence summary [extract]

Assessing the situation in Guatemala, this DIA secret intelligence summary describes President Fernando Lucas García as "unimpressive" and "far more repressive" than his predecessors. The report argues that the regime has inspired intensified guerrilla activity throughout the country which, in turn, has increased Guatemalan suspicions of Mexican official involvement. "Reports have…been received indicating that Mexico provides some discreet financial, political, and moral support to Guatemalan guerrillas, as well as sanctuary for the nation's political exiles….Most Guatemalan military officers are convinced that Mexico is also funneling arms to the guerrillas and serves as a route of infiltration."

Source: Released to National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act, April 1996, Archive Request No.13381

Document 10
March 25, 1982
Assistance to Insurgents in El Salvador and Guatemala from Mexican Territory
State Department, secret telegram

As the situation in Central America becomes increasingly polarized, the State Department requests information from the embassy regarding the extent of Mexican Government involvement in aiding guerrilla movements in the region. "Reports suggest a disturbing level of Mexican official accommodation to Guatemalan guerrillas, despite Mexican army's apparent desire to clamp down."

Source: U.S. Department of State Reading Room
Declassified May 1994

Document 11
March 30, 1982
Assistance to Insurgents in El Salvador and Guatemala from Mexican Territory
U.S. Embassy in Mexico, confidential telegram

The U.S. embassy argues that Mexico's approach to the insurgents is pragmatic. On the one hand, the López Portillo administration permits political representatives of the insurgencies to keep offices and maneuver relatively freely in Mexico City. However this permissiveness does not likely extend to providing material support to the guerrillas. On the border, armed insurgents operate within Mexican territory, but the ambassador doubts that there is deliberate government support for their presence.

Source: U.S. Department of State Reading Room
Declassified May 1994

Document 12
September 1982
Mexican Policy Toward Central America
CIA, [classification excised] intelligence assessment

Near the end of the López Portillo administration, the CIA produces an intelligence assessment of Mexico's policy in Central America. This heavily-censored report emphasizes Mexico's accommodating stance toward left-wing revolutionary movements in the region as well as its various initiatives for peace, and points out that the policy has resulted in political dividends for the government. "In the midst of Mexico's most serious economic crisis in modern history, López Portillo continues to be buoyed by the international acclaim given his prescription for easing tension in the region."

Source: Released to Scott Armstrong under the Freedom of Information Act, March 1987

Document 13
September 14, 1982
MOD Visits México
Defense Intelligence Agency, [classification excised] intelligence information report

On the eve of Mexico's Independence Day, the DIA reports that General Oscar Mejía Víctores, Guatemalan Minister of Defense, will attend the celebrations and "avail himself of this opportunity to solicit information regarding the thousands of Guatemalan refugees who have fled to Mexico, as well as to discuss with Mexican military authorities the matter of alleged Guatemalan military incursions into Mexico."

Source: Released to National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act
July 1994, Archive Request No. 9530

Document 14
December 6, 1982
Draft Memorandum of Conversation-Bilateral Between President Reagan and the President of Guatemala, General Efraín Ríos Montt
U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, confidential cable

While on a visit to Honduras, Ronald Reagan takes the opportunity to meet with Guatemalan President Efrain Ríos Montt. After calling Belize a major source of communist subversion, Ríos Montt accuses Mexico of harboring guerrillas. "He then went on to describe the Mexican role in supplying the guerrillas across the extensive Guatemalan/Mexican border. He asserted that Mexico was being used as a rest area and a place for training and indoctrination of guerrillas."

Source: Released to National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act, January 2000, Archive Request No.13503

Document 15
February 23, 1983
Embassy Report on Villages in El Quiché
U.S. Embassy in Guatemala, unclassified cable

In mid-February an officer from the U.S. Embassy visits some of the more besieged areas near the Mexico-Guatemala border. Local accounts here describe a situation where villagers are caught between the guerrillas and the army. Fearing the consequences of contact with either force, many people have fled into Mexico. Meanwhile, military officials continue to emphasize the role of Mexican territory as a base for guerrilla attacks. "The commander briefed us on the military situation in the area, noting with special emphasis the problem of continuing guerrilla raids from Mexico."

Source: Commission for Historical Clarification in Guatemala
U.S. Department of State, Box 1
Released January 1998

Document 16
March 3, 1983
Guatemala's Guerrillas Retreating in the Face of Government Pressure
State Department Bureau of Intelligence and Research, secret assessment [extract]

Another intelligence assessment points to Mexico as a regular source of supply and refuge for Guatemala's various insurgencies. While the analysis attributes this support in large part to the simple convenience that Mexico's proximity affords, ideology is also cited as a contributing factor. "Ideology also helps explain guerrilla use of Mexican territory. For several years, Mexico has supported Central American 'liberation movements' in international forums; recent information indicates that this policy will continue under President de la Madrid."

Source: Released to National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act, October 1999, Archive Request No. 13296

Document 17
Circa May 1984
[Why Relocate the Refugee Camps?]
Secretaría de la Defensa, slides

This collection of slides and text from Mexico's Secretariat of Defense (SEDENA) reviews how moving the mass of Guatemalan refugees away fro the border and into the Mexican state of Campeche might affect the various parties involved. Using a cold war analysis to explain the problem, the document explores how the move might affect the Soviet Union, the United States, Guatemala and Mexico itself. The continued existence of the refugee camps on the border is characterized as a threat to Mexican national security, "given that organic cells of subversive Guatemalan organizations very probably operate inside the camps, [groups] which are undoubtedly connected to international Central American organizations, and that in the near future given the economic crisis our country is suffering [these groups] will be able to operate in Mexico through the indoctrination of the economically weak popular masses, encouraging them to join the subversive movement with an eye to the destabilization of the country. . ."

Source: Mexico's Archivo General de la Nación, SEDENA
Caja 19, expediente 62, hojas 605-625

Document 18
July 11, 1984
Problematica Existente en el Sureste del País
Secretaría de la Defensa, report

In reaction to the problems bedeviling efforts to move the refugee camps out of the border region and into theYucatán Peninsula, Mexico's Defense Secretariat analyzes what went wrong and what must be done to achieve a more favorable situation. While acknowledging incompetence on the part of the military authorities involved in the operation as well as widespread mistreatment of the refugees, the report nonetheless characterizes resistance to the plan as the work of guerrillas and their supporters. "The refugee population remains divided between those who support the relocation initiated by the government and who can be considered as having really fled their country in order to save their lives, and those who disapprove of the government's measure, arguing that it places them far away from their country and that they are not familiar with the place where they will be relocated; it can be assumed that these [refugees] are in contact with the subversives or the geurrillas."

Source: Mexico's Archivo General de la Nación, SEDENA
Caja 19, expediente 62, hojas 494-96

Document 19
Circa July 16, 1984
Estudio de Estado Mayor
Secretaría de la Defensa, study

This report explicitly emphasizes the growing dangers to Mexican stability of the refugee crisis. The dismal social and economic conditions of the region's residents, the document argues, have long made them vulnerable to manipulation by both the local progressive clergy and leftist political groups. The addition of the Guatemalan refugees to the mix only increases the potential problems for the Mexican Government. "From the moment they were established in our country, the Guatemalan refugee camps have created a series of problems of a political, economic, social and military nature, which in turn have provoked frictions between our government and that of Guatemala…"

Source: Mexico's Archivo General de la Nación, SEDENA
Caja 19, expediente 62, hojas 533-541

Document 20
Circa November 15, 1984
Estudio de Estado Mayor
Secretaría de la Defensa, study

In this SEDENA study of the refugee crisis, the analysis focuses on the role of the progressive clergy in the region. Citing the geographic and cultural familiarity that Chiapas provides the refugees, the local bishops have gone on record in opposition to the Mexican Government's plan to transfer the Guatemalans to the Yucatán. However in the view of SEDENA, this rational is a smokescreen for the clergy's ulterior religious and leftist political motives. In addition, their objectives threaten the national security of Mexico. "Guatemala's socio-political crisis is being exploited to the maximum by the progressive clergy in order to justify the immigrant flow of refugees into our country, nevertheless this ignores the real reasons they are being persecuted by their own government, with the additional aggravating circumstance that the children born in our country will aquire Mexican nationality and with the passage of time will form important groups with possible separatist tendencies. . ."

Source: Mexico's Archivo General de la Nación, SEDENA
Caja 19, expediente 62, hojas 542-548

Document 21
November 23, 1984
Guatemala: Reluctant Central American Partner
CIA, secret analysis

The CIA analyzes Guatemala's foreign policy toward Central America, and in particular the government's posture vis-á-vis the Contadora peace effort. In the view of the agency, chief of state Oscar Mejía Víctores intends to try and force concessions out of Mexico on border issues in exchange for Guatemalan support in Contadora. In particular, Mejía seeks the removal of all Guatemalan refugee camps away from the border as a way of cutting off what he perceives as a major source of propaganda and support for the guerrillas.

Source: Released to National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act, March 1998, Archive Request No. 15468

Document 22
June 14, 1985
MZ #18, San Marcos, Briefing on Military Situation
Defense Intelligence Agency, confidential cable

In another DIA report, the situation of Guatemala's San Marcos region is analyzed. Once again the importance of Mexico in sustaining the guerrillas is emphasized. "A continuing area of concern…is the use of Mexican territory as an insurgent safehaven. Military authorities are convinced that the guerrillas gain at least passive acquiescence from Mexican authorities, if not outright support."

Source: Released to National Security Archive under the Freedom of Information Act, August 1996, Archive Request No. 13397

Document 23
July 31 1985
[Intercepted Guatemalan Radio Transmission]
Secretaría de la Defensa, confidential cable

A telegram from the Mexican army's "Listening Center" transmits to the Defense Secretariat the content of a radio transmission intercepted by the Mexicans while monitoring Guatemalan military communications. The transmission came from the military zone commander in the Quiché, Byron Lima Estrada, for the head of the army general staff and tells of an encounter by a military patrol unit with armed insurgents. The clash resulted in "six terrorists dead and a trail of blood."

Source: Mexico's Archivo General de la Nación, SEDENA
Caja 19, expediente 62, hoja 626

Document 24
June 30, 1986
Para Informar a la Superioridad
Secretaría de la Defensa, memorandum

Memorandum written in anticipation of an upcoming meeting between President Miguel de la Madrid and the newly-elected President Vinicio Cerezo of Guatemala to discuss the situation in Central America, the Guatemalan refugees in Mexico, and bilateral economic issues. The other reason for Cerezo's trip to Mexico is to meet privately with Guatemalan guerrilla leaders .

Source: Mexico's Archivo General de la Nación, SEDENA
Caja 19, expediente 62, hojas 603-604

 

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